Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Reacting and Pragmatism

Ephraim Radner has responded to my blog entry that suggests The Episcopal Church would do well to withdraw from the Anglican Communion before central Anglican Communion institutions come to define TEC and the ACC as second division while it centralises. Graham Kings also provides questions and answers from the final press conference from Rowan Williams. So these are worth a response; I already have responded, directly into the Fulcrum site (yet to appear as I write) but there is some more to add here. Furthermore Thinking Anglicans has collected relevant responses to Lambeth from one American bishop and three English bishops, as well as the email by Bishop Robert Duncan who is set to become Primate of the Province of North America in GAFCON.

To start with the press conference. The key aspect of the Pastoral Forum is this, that it should be set up quickly and its basis is:

something in the Dar es Salaam Primates’ Communiqué about how external support might be factored into a local church like the Episcopal Church. Something is worth pursuing so it is putting a bit of flesh on that.

So it is another go at an institution that had failed to take off and in all probability will fail again on the same basis - it means interfering from outside.

Secondly is the matter to do with the intention towards centralisation. This indeed was affirmed by Rowan Williams:

is this suggesting the Communion itself is moving more towards being 'a church'?

I think the answer would have to be yes from where I stand. I hope that a little bit more mutual responsibility and accountability and a bit more willingness to walk in step will make us more like a church.

Not enforced conformity, but:

a challenge to the tendency for local churches to get trapped in their local contexts. I think that’s a danger. The catholic ideal, if you like, the global ideal, is one of the ways we push back against those tendencies.

Rowan Williams is understating things as per usual so the question is what he means. It means, I think, if some potential action is a cultural response on a specific situation then there should be global level mutual responsibility and accountability first - which means do something other, or not do what was intended. It means the speed of the slowest, and it means intervention should come if the speed of the slowest is not observed.

Ephraim Radner responds that the Communion used to be centralised back in history and there was no independency then. This does not compare with anything Rowan Williams, "nasty evangelicals or integralist catholics" might be suggesting There was no golden age. Centralising has not yet happened (I think he is referring to the Communion here, though the point comes later). Secondly TEC may not be actually governed authoritatively by General Convention and dioceses may actually be "the only real entity of authority in the U.S." The various responses in TEC may be pragmatic and there may be nothing traditional to govern the responses, and Rowan Williams is trying to provide an ecclesiastical rationale via his Catholic stance.

First of all, there is of course a long tradition of pragmatism in the United States: it is in its philosophy and theology for example (two names come to me immediately: Richard Rorty as a pragmatic version of postmodern philosophy, Reinhold Niebuhr as a pragmatist of social and economic theology). Pragmatism is practical and measured: I am myself something of a pragmatist. It does not follow at all that tradition should be the decider of what to do. All Churches at different stages innovate, usually because some pressing issue forces it, though the innovation is usually accompanied by an argument from tradition for reasons of legitimacy. Hobsbawm and Ranger wrote a good book on The Invention of Tradition in 1983 about how people draw up arguments and practices for this purpose.

I think there should be a theology of innovation, otherwise everything slows down to slower than a snail. Anglicanism is not Orthodoxy. Roman Catholicism might be as slow as a snail, but it can potentially be revolutionary because the pope is a means to change; Anglicanism is a far more flexible and culturally founded organ, and it is more fluid and open to change. Presumably it wants to identify and keep key doctrines, but beyond these it can change however it likes.

The past is no judge on this: there was no actual Communion but the Church of England extended and other agencies elsewhere, putting out a cultural Christianity to others. The Church of England insisted on its own autonomy, all the time, and this is what other Churches gained when they had their independence. They became more culturally responsive, usually ending up with a peculiar hybrid of English and local Christianity. The oddity of Britain, however, meant that Scotland was different, and tinged with support for a deposed king and descendents. Thus we get a different stream out of Scotland, and that became the American one.

In the end hard, concrete, pragmatic incidents will decide what happens. It is the Pastoral Forum when up and running that will impact by what it does, and it is the making of a new province of GAFCON that will decide what happens. Robert Duncan is quite insistent upon it (see below), and it won't be the last new province either: these people are out to remake Anglicanism as a narrow, confessional Communion that really would be like a Church. These are realities far more significant than my or anyone else's rhetoric. It is looking at those realities that affects what I am writing.

This is why the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle provides the best analysis of the three English bishops highlighted. Paul Richardson is not wearing rose tinted spectacles.

The fault lines are within provinces (indeed they are) and there is the province of North America coming, he says. And, as well:

There is no guarantee that either the Covenant or the Pastoral Forum will prove acceptable to the Communion. There are questions about whether Parliament would give its approval to the Church of England entering the Covenant if this were seen as narrowing the broad national and popular base of the church.

This is plain and clear (and rather obvious). It is not wrapped up in Ephraim Radners "Christ centred" language: that language can be applied to all sorts of options (and is one reason why I don't use it). Another fact is that the Covenant could take up to 2013 to be agreed, which leaves a lot of time for events.

Here is a key passage:

It is difficult to see this happening if traditionalist bishops from elsewhere in the Communion continue to take parishes and dioceses in the US under their wing or ordain bishops for North America. The diocese of Fort Worth is set to follow the example of San Joaquin and enter the Province of the Southern Cone (fully represented at Lambeth). The pressures on American bishops to respond to outside interference by disregarding the moratoria will be enormous, especially in those places such as California seeking to legalise same-sex marriage.

My argument, though, is that the Americans should not have the moratoria. It is just wrong. And the basis of it, in order to hold some centralising arrangement together, is not worth the cost of exclusion.

Pierre W. Whalon, the Bishop in Charge, Convocation of American Churches in Europe, wants the Communion to succeed. However, his point is that within the Communion the argument that inclusion is moral theology and not key doctrine has to be better made, better arguments using theology and not just social science and science. Moral theology does change - and he is (this way) developing a theology of innovation. I just think it won't be accepted by those who formed GAFCON and by many other evangelicals. They do not accept the argument, as believed by Rowan Williams personally, that a Pauline text against homosexual activity is about heterosexuals looking for sexual variety - that Paul was not on about committed lifelong intended relationships that can be the equivalent of heterosexual marriage. The evangelicals, we know, say that because the Bible in simplistic literalistic form is never pro-gay regarding sexual expression that it becomes first order to be anti gay inclusion where sexual expression is involved.

So it is an impasse. We either have the same sex relationship blessings and priests and bishops who may be in same sex relationships or we don't. Well in some Churches there will be cultural reasons why not (whilst there are indeed gay people about and many who feel very threatened) but in others there are cultural reasons to proceed - reasons that allow other Churches at some point to develop more tolerance at least. The Churches in lands where gay people have civil partnerships ought to have blessings and ought to have representation within the ministry.

Pierre W. Whalon is naturally against schism, but schism is being forced upon him and others, and actually getting out of the Communion a way to reconstitute a more flexible, responsive, set of Churches in relationships with one another.

The alternative is something like Anthony Russell's piece, where all is so positive including a clear majority that the moratoria should work. Trouble is, it doesn't take many doing otherwise for the moratoria not to work, however many would like it to work. It is irrelevant what the majority wants, because they don't decide it: a minority do.

This is what he is happy about:

As one Bishop said, 'We have never really had an Anglican Communion. It's starting now.'

It might also be finishing now, in terms of hard realities.

In some contrast, the Bishop of Oxford is struggling. It was all a good experience, Lambeth, but:

The difficulty remains in the final part of the Covenant, and in the appendix, where details are spelled out of a possible way of handling disputes. More work needs to be done here to avoid an aura of punishment while still preventing the fabric of communion tearing further. I don't envy the task of the Covenant Design Group but I do believe they are to be trusted.


Of course there are real concerns. Mine centre on whether the Gafcon bishops and leaders will be prepared to engage with the re-affirmed Covenant and Windsor processes, and whether the American church will hold to the moratoria.

And that is the point. So let's see what Bob will do to help the process (as of August 11). To help, numbers are added:

There are at least four serious problems with the thinking surrounding the work of the Windsor Continuation Group...
  1. the moral equivalence implied between the three moratoria
  2. We all anticipate coming under Southern Cone this fall, thus to join San Joaquin. This process cannot be stopped
  3. Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Cone (including Recife) will never consent to the "holding tank" whose stated purpose is eventual "reconciliation" with TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada.
  4. the legal proceedings brought by TEC and ACC

Well that is clear then. Time to take off the rose coloured spectacles.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

I was struck by this: It means the speed of the slowest, and it means intervention should come if the speed of the slowest is not observed.

The older ones of us in the States lived through the epoch when the phrase all deliberate speed was a euphemism for the entrenched, obstinate resistance of racial bigots to a more equitable society. The length of time too many of us acquiesced in this charade was a moral outrage.

We should have learned better than to let considerations of speed determine our actions. If we believe a thing is right, do it. If not, don't.

I'm happy to trust that the God who sent the Son to show us what love means will sort all this out.